A Q&A with Graypants
Graypants was founded by architects who wanted to return to what they loved about their craft: design, drawing and making things by hand. The company now literally turns trash into treasured modern lighting, using discarded cardboard boxes, newspapers and wood and making daily dumpster dives to salvage clean cardboard for their aptly named "scraplights." We caught up with Principal and Design Director Jonathan Junker to learn more about this Seattle-based studio.
Where do you find inspiration?
The nature surrounding Seattle is one of the most inspiring environments on our planet! The water, mountains, and forests are breathtaking. I'm also very inspired by my travels. Recently I took a train from coast to coast, stopping at the Grand Canyon along the way. It's easy to forget how incredible the hidden parts of our own country are when most of us travel by air. I finished that trip inspired, grounded, and feeling very creative.
What is important to you in design?
We always talk about "responsible design" in our studio. Being sustainable is much more than just using a recycled material. We've been able to maintain our core values as a design studio and manufacturer by producing our products locally, with local talent and local materials. One year ago we opened a second studio in Amsterdam so we could produce locally for the European market as well. In Europe, we've been able to take it a step further and support social works programs to help employ people with disabilities who have a hard time finding hands-on creative jobs. In today's environment, I think all designers should be thinking this way.
How does your design process work?
We have a saying in our studio: "Dream, Scribble, Make." Basically, we never shy away from trying something new! We're always getting our hands dirty and always amazing ourselves with the unexpected places that approach leads. I'd say our process is also very thorough. We keep almost everything in-house, including our photography, graphic design, literature, packaging design, etc. It really makes one think about every little detail and aspect of the product.
How do you design alongside changes in the lighting industry?
It's certainly a constant challenge, but keeping up with the changes and having a willingness to customize our products on a per-project basis has been one of our success stories. We're always prototyping in our studio, and we've always been able to make our products meet the needs of a particular client. Also, those are the design tweaks that often lead to discoveries or new ideas!
What's it been like to be so well received?
It's just incredible to be able to work with such wonderful people and such a tightly knit team in our studio. We're in it together, and I'm very grateful to do what I love with my friends.
What has the exposure in Starbucks' had in your success?
We approached Starbucks years ago with a very clear idea about how they could save money by re-using their existing pendant components and incorporating a custom designed shade from us that nobody else could purchase. The story fit and it worked well for everyone. Graypants is five years old now and we continue to roll our "Bean" pendants into their stores. They've also been very supportive of us as a local creative studio and continue to reach out to us for unique ideas. Our collaboration with them has expanded into some conceptual design work as well as custom one-off projects.
What's the Graypants studio like?
I would describe it as a hands-on (often messy) laboratory! It's never quiet here. We learned early on that allowing people to have as much input on all aspects of the business as possible, the more everyone would benefit. We're never afraid to try new things. It's more fun and more collaborative that way, and it's allowed us to have a very lively atmosphere.